Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) are locked in mortal combat: They compete for the coveted title of "most valuable company," see-sawing back and forth around the $400 billion market cap mark.
This makes for exciting headlines. But did you know that Apple doesn't even rank among the 10 largest companies if you measure by annual sales instead?
By that measure, Apple comes in at No. 11 among companies that trade on American stock exchanges.
Beating Cupertino's $165 billion in trailing sales still isn't easy -- unless you happen to run a global oil-production company. Eight of the 10 stocks ranking ahead of Apple on this list are oil giants, spearheaded by Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell, in pole position with $482 billion in trailing revenue. Exxon's $450 billion puts it in third place.
Sliding into second place and breaking up the oily dominance a bit, you'll find retail giant Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) at $464 billion. Sam Walton's empire has turned high-volume retailing into an art and a science.
Joining Wal-Mart and Exxon as American outposts on this elite list, you'll see Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) sliding in at No. 9 with $223 billion in revenue. Texas-based Philips 66 rounds out the top 10 with a $166 billion tally, narrowly beating out Apple's top-line total.
The only other non-oil operation here is Japanese car king Toyota, in a respectable seventh position with sales of $254 billion.
All the other giants up top are oil producers based in places like China, France, and Great Britain.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) is well-represented here, courtesy of Wal-Mart, Exxon, and Chevron. Looking a bit further down the ranks, 15 of the 30 Dow components rank among the global market's 50 biggest revenue-producers.
And if the Dow aims to reflect the titans of American industry, let me point out that every single one of the 30 members places in the top 10% of the revenue-hungriest tradable businesses in the world.
So that's what it takes to beat Apple on the top line. Your best bet would be pumping oil, followed by incredibly high-volume retail operations and global leadership in big-ticket items like cars. I find it pretty incredible that Apple's mobile gadgetry even lands it close to this list of leaders.
Are you at ease...or nervous? It's been a great five-year run for investors, with the Dow and S&P at or near all-time highs. Yet fears abound. When will the next downturn hit? Will political gridlock lead to portfolio-killing inflation? To learn how to protect your portfolio, click here for free guidance from the Motley Fool Pro Academy!